Making a mockery of secularism: Citizenship Bill flouts Constitution

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019, is a heinous violation of the most basic tenet of the Indian Constitution’s preamble. And that is the 1976 amendment by which the people of India declared they were “secular“ apart from being a socialistic state. Until the Narendra Modi government amends the preamble to remove the two words “secular“ and “socialist”, the Indian state continues in theory at least to be secular. Whether it is a pseudo-secular state or not is debatable. It is definitely no longer socialist and those who believe it is are living in a fool’s paradise.

The Bill seems to have camouflaged Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s concepts of pitrubhu (fatherland) and punyabhu (holy land) to grant citizenship to even Christians and Parsis whose religion does not fulfill punyabhu. Be that as it may, the CAB-2019 flouts the concept of citizenship and nationhood as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose ideals comprise what the judiciary has now termed “Constitutional morality”. There is no doubt that CAB-2019 undermines both the Constitution and its morality which will be left to the judiciary to resurrect.

This is why the Narendra Modi government seems to be enacting laws which supplant the traditional welfare of Indian citizens with the propagation of religion in conformity with Article 25 of the Constitution which declares all persons are equally entitled to profess, practice and propagate religion. Strictly on the basis of religion, the mandatory residence period for granting citizenship has been reduced from 11 years to 6 years for refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

These refugees must necessarily profess Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity – while the CAB seems to be silent about atheists and agnostics who also have a right to citizenship even if they never visit temples, mosques, fire temples, churches or Buddhist viharas. In fact, the staunchest Buddhists or Jains deny the existence of a personal God because they strive to attain nirvana, enlightenment. So, jocularly, there is no reason to deny Indian citizenship to aliens who deny God exists because the Indian state will provide them with food, shelter and clothing at the expense of taxes paid by loyal citizens.

The CAB has made a mockery of secularism because laws like those passed by the legislative assemblies of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, apart from Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan appear at first glance to flout some provisions of articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution because religion is used by some law-makers to usurp power by dividing the people. So there you have it – both secular and socialist which exist in our preamble are phantasmal concepts which may no longer exist.

Citizenship can never be linked to religion. And if this is done, it will be challenged in the Supreme Court. What the learned judges have to say when they uphold or strike down this polemical law will be well-worth watching and dissecting. The judiciary will prove or disprove whether we are truly secular or not.

This Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016 after which it was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee on August 12, 2016. This committee submitted its report on January 7, 2019 after which the Bill was introduced by home minister Rajnath Singh in the Lok Sabha. But with the Modi government securing the union cabinet’s approval on Wednesday, the Bill will inevitably become the law of the land before it is challenged in the apex court.

This Bill is not as innocuous as it seems. Most of India’s seven north eastern states have a Christian majority population (with the exception of Assam) which may change if illegal migrants from neighbouring Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Myanmar are allowed to get citizenship. Illegal migration from Bangladesh sparked violent protests in Assam during the early 1980s after which the Assam Accord was signed in 1985 which declared all aliens who penetrated the state after March 24, 1971 would be deported. The most basic fundamental right to livelihood of ethnic communities in the region was affected with the influx of aliens who were largely Muslims from neighbouring Bangladesh.

It was because the CAB was passed in the Lok Sabha that the Asom Gana Parishad, severed its ties with the BJP and pulled out of the state government. Interestingly, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi openly declared in a rally on January 27, 2018 that Assam would secede from India if the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed. These inflammatory statements attract Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which is a draconian British provision earlier known as Section 113 by Lord Macaulay. It was not included in 1837 when the IPC was first written but only in 1870. The Congress promised to scrap Section 124-A if it came to power because it suppressed free speech but it is still a part of the IPC.

What is even more interesting was that February 8, 2019, some of the agitators from the All Assam Students Union and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti while protesting against the CAB, stripped naked in front of the Janata Bhawan. The Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal declared he would resign if Assam’s interests were not protected by the controversial CAB. But it seems more or less certain that the CAB will become law despite avowedly communal parties like the Shiv Sena making a volte face from its well-known anti-Muslim stance to oppose the CAB because it links religion with citizenship. The Sena has conveniently forgotten that its very raison d’etre is religion, language and regionalism which are anti-Constitution.

And that is why our founding fathers like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar must be rolling in their graves with these new laws coming into force.

The writer holds a Ph.D in Media law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.

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